Six years ago, Hopkins remodeling contractor Steve Kuhl took on a quirky project. The client was his older brother, who was building a house in Medina and wanted "something fun" for his two young children.
Kuhl delivered: a climbing wall, a "super luge" (a 55-foot spiral slide into the sport court), a secret door hidden behind a suit of armor, and a pirate-themed bedroom for his nephew, then age 6.
Kuhl pulled out all the stops in the bedroom, which included a ship's hull jutting out of the wall, a crow's nest, a rope bridge, a jail cell ("for evil-doers," Kuhl said) and an under-the-sea paint job.
"It was fun," said Kuhl, whose company, Kuhl Design Build, typically works on kitchens, bathrooms and additions. "I like to work outside the box."
He moved on to other jobs, and his brother moved on to another house. A few photos remained posted on Kuhl's company website, www.kuhldesignbuild.com. And the playful project was more or less forgotten.
Then, one day early this month, Kuhl got an e-mail from a stranger in the U.K. It was a press agency wanting to publish photos of the pirate room. Surprised, Kuhl asked where they'd seen it. On a blog, mymodernmet.com, it turned out.
How did the California-based blog find out about the Minnesota project? Blogger Eugene Kim, said he saw a photo of the "awesome pirate ship bedroom" on another blog, www.thedailywhat. "I knew I had to investigate further," he said. He searched for Kuhl's website, found more photos and contacted Kuhl for an interview.
"From there it exploded," Kuhl said. "Within 24 hours, I started getting random e-mails from all over the world. It's been insane."
Kuhl has heard from publishers, journalists and TV producers from as far away as China. The pirate room piqued their interest, but Kuhl himself became an online celebrity. Someone from Los Angeles even sent him a Flip Cam to film himself and his crew, to see if they might make for a good reality show.
Although the calls and e-mails are still coming, being in the Internet's limelight hasn't gone to Kuhl's head. "It's just hilarious," he said, "an incredible example of how something can go viral without any intention whatsoever."
Nor has it improved his company's bottom line. So far, he hasn't gotten any offers for wacky new jobs, but he's still hopeful.
"Maybe I'll get a call from some royal in Dubai. I'm open to possibilities," he said with a laugh. But Kuhl doesn't think homemade video of his crew will grab a network's attention. "They'll think, 'These are boring people. Where's the drama?'"
In the meantime, he'll keep doing more conventional remodeling projects. (Two will be featured on the Remodelers Showcase tour April 1-3: an owners' suite and a kitchen/bathroom/mudroom project, both in Edina.)
He's happy to know that people are still enjoying the spiral slide and pirate room. "The kids living there now are in high school, but they still play around with the ship at parties. And the slide is a good time, even for adults. It brings out the playful nature in us all."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784